Therefore, this essay will first discuss the aim of prisons then by examining what actually happens in prison. In order to have a clearer understanding of prison services, it would be better to see it from the prisoner’s point of view. Issues will be discussed from the prisoners’ personal life and the wider prison service. For example, in personal issues, what food is provided for the prisoners and how often do prisoners have contact with their family and friends. From a wider context problems such as overcrowding will be discussed.
Thirdly, prisons do not serve only as a form of punishment but also aim to help criminals not to re-offend. Hence, this essay will also mention about the services in prisons which hope to reduce the number of re-offending. Finally, the question of our prisons effectiveness will be discussed. The aim of prisons, as mentioned above, is to punish offenders and protect the public. Obviously, the reasons why they have to be punished is because of the crimes they have committed and their incarceration also serves to protect the public because those offenders are prevented from committing other crimes while they were in prisons.
However, according to Ruck (1951:23), “Men come to prison as a punishment not for punishment”. There are some forms of punishments that seem to be too heavy for prisoners. For example, the number of times that prisoners are allowed to meet their family and friends are limited. In this case, prisoners’ psychological support might be inadequate, as the pain of deprivation of liberty and separation from family are almost unbearable (Coyle, 2005). It seems that it is not only punishing the offenders but their families as well.
Another purpose of imprisonment is that to encourage and assist prisoners to have a good and useful life (Home office: Command of Her Majesty, 1969). In prison, every prisoner has the opportunity to learn different practical skills, by providing a wide range of regimes, prisoners can gain more experience in particular skills such as wheelchair making. These skills might be useful after their release. However, the freedoms that every prisoner has are very limited. They are told what to do and where to go in particular time, even on spending money; they are told how much money they may have as well (Coyle, 2005).
It is understandable that prisons wish to influence prisoner’s future behaviour, but the rules in prison seem to be changing only their behaviour rather than changing their ways of making decisions. Prisoners conform in prison might be because they have no alternative choice for not obeying, but when they return to real society, will they make right decisions? This question will be discussed further in the last part of the essay. Deterrence could be another purpose of imprisonment. It was believed that the choices we make are affected by what we foresee as the likely consequences of our actions.
Therefore, if the cost of that particular action is too high, it might deter that person from doing. This is, in other words, the greater the punishment, the greater the deterrent. There are two main forms of deterrence: Individual and general. The former is that if an individual is sent to prison, it deters them from committing a specific crime or even re-offending. General deterrence means that by seeing someone else being sent to prison, it reminds individuals not to commit crime for fear the same thing will happen to them.
However, according to the statistics provided by the Home Office (2002a), there were 59 per cent of all prisoners and 74 per cent of young offenders discharged in 1999 who re-offended within two years of their discharges. So, the effectiveness of the deterrence effect of imprisonment has to be re-considered. After considering the functions of prisons, further description of prisoners’ lives will be discussed. Despite the fact that eating is an essential part of daily life to everyone, food in prison will be discussed first.
Every prisoner will be provided four meals per day which are breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. There are some differences in the form of giving food to prisoners between large and smaller prisons. In some larger prisons, breakfast is given to the prisoner before they are locked up in the evening whereas in some smaller prisons, prisoners have to go to a specific place like a kitchen to collect the food. Apart from breakfast, the rest of the meals in the day are normally prepared by several staff and a large number of selected prisoners (Coyle, 2005).
There is a gap of up to 16 hours that prisoner do not have any meals provided, therefore, if the gap is 14 hours or more, a snack and a hot drink must be provided before the prison is locked for the night. Overall the quality of food is improving in recent years and there is current research which shows that there is a connection between food and behaviour. According to Stein (2008), “Our initial findings indicated that improving what people eat could lead them to behave more sociably as well as improving their health. ” It was believed that what prisoners eat was affecting their behaviour in prison.
A recent study found statistic evidence that changing prisoners’ diets cut violent behaviour by 35% (Gesch, 2008). Another important issue to prisoners is visitation rights from their families and friends. The visitation time varies from 30 minutes to several hours; it depends on what sentences the prisoners were serving and where the prisoners were. In some prisons in Europe, for example Spanish prisoners, prisoners were visited by families and friends only once a month which lasts between one to three hours (Coyle, 2005).
In England and Wales, visits normally last for two hours at most, even for prisoners serving long sentences. Visits usually take place in a room where tables and chairs are provided. Although the common form of communication is a face-to-face visit, different countries have different forms of visiting. In the United States, physical contact is not allowed; prisoners and visitors were separated by a glass screen and conversations are monitored by staff (Coyle, 2005). These situations only happened to those high security prisoners in England and Wales, the reason is to avoid smuggling during the visit.
Normally, prisoners visits in England and Wales take place in general visiting rooms where staff can see but not necessarily hear. A closed-circuit television camera will be switched on to monitor them. Visits are not the only method of contact with families and friends. Letters and phone calls are the other ways of keeping in touch. According to Her Majesty Prison Service, if a prisoner is convicted, they can only send out one free letter every week whereas for those unconvicted prisoners, they can send out two free letters every week (HM Prison Service, 2004).
However, there is no limit to the number of letters prisoners may send or receive at their own expense, the length of the letters are not limited as well. All the letters to and from prisons were read by staff until the mid-1990s. There are two reasons for that, firstly, for security reasons, staff have to ensure there are no arrangements for escapes or of smuggling drugs. Second, it was to ensure letters did not contain any bad news which will affect the prisoners’ emotionally. For example, if the news was about a death in the family or a partner intended to end a relationship, staffs have to be aware of the prisoner’s reaction.
Nowadays, there is a limited check on a random sample of 5 per cent of all letters going in and out of the prisons; this is just to make sure the letters did not contain any extraneous items, such as drugs and money (Coyle, 2005). The effectiveness of prisons are not affected by the letter itself, however, if letters make a difference to prisoners’ well being and it can encourages communication links between families and friends, it could help to change prisoners behaviours thus achieving the aim of prisons.
Nonetheless, there is another way which may affect prisoner’s behaviours as well. If the letter’s content contains some bad news to prisoners which lead to emotional distress, self-harming and suicide problems will rise in the health issues and therefore it would affect the effectiveness of prisons. Telephones, are an alternative way of keeping in touch with families and friends outside of prison, the aim is to encourage prisoners to take responsibility for maintaining close and meaningful ties (Coyle, 2005). Instead of using phone cards, pinphones are now used in all prisons.
Prisoners may purchase credit and the cost of phone calls made is deducted automatically from their PIN account (HM Prison Service, 2004). By understanding how prisoners keep in touch with families and friends are not enough to judge whether prison is effective or not, to look in more depth, prisoners’ health issues will be discussed further now. According to National Statistics, health problems are quite serious in prisons, there are about 78 per cent of male remands, 64 per cent of sentenced males, and 50 per cent of sentenced females have some form of personality disorders (Maguire et al, 2007).
It was believed that the environments lead to the poorer health of prisoners as they do not have enough exercises and fresh airs in prison. Apart from health problems, drugs abuse and suicide problems were both seriously found in prisons. Nearly three quarters of all recent prisoners had used illegal drugs 12 months before their imprisonments and over half of them reported that their offences were linked to their drug behaviours, because they needed money to buy drugs (Coyle, 2005).
The prison service has been making an effort to deal with prisoners who abuse drugs, for example, treatment programmes are provided. Prisoners can always get help with their drugs problems, some of the programmes are run on Voluntary Testing Units, where prisoners are regularly tested for drugs (HM Prison Service, 2004). Sometimes, the feelings of being in custody can be very painful and unbearable. Some prisoners might feel so desperate that they will harm themselves or even kill themselves.
The concerns about suicide problems have been increasing and the prison service has continuing to train staff so they will have a better understanding and knowledge of how to deal with self-harm prisoners. One of the programmes that is run by the prison service is the ACCT Plan, which means Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (HM Prison Service, 2004). This plan is to provide more individual care to prisoners as well as helping them to reduce their distress. It is hoped that with this support, the intentions to commit suicides will be reduced.
To discuss wider, overcrowding has always been seen as a negative phenomenon. According to Altman (1978), crowding will lead to a negative psychological response such as stress. In other words, prisoners’ mental health might be affected by overcrowded conditions. Also, crowded prisons may be poorly managed (Gaes, 1985). The overall prisoner to staff ratio is that of 1. 4:1 and a prisoner to officer ratio of 2. 82:1 (Prison Service, 2005b). It was believed that the larger the population in prison, the fewer correctional staff to monitor prisoner’s behaviours.
One of the aims of imprisonment was to change offenders’ life and behaviours, if the prison environment does not managed to change prisoners’ behaviour, especially coping behaviour, how can prisons be an effective tool of reform? Therefore an effective prison should not have overcrowding problems. Last but not least, to discuss if prison is effective or not, it is important to see the re-offending rate. A re-offending means that the offender committed an offence within the two year follow-up period and was subsequently convicted in court (Home Office, 2006).
A successful imprisonment would stop offenders re-offending again after they have been released. However, based on the re-offending statistics, they do not reflect that imprisonment has been successful. The re-offending rate in 2000 was 57. 6 per cent and 3 years later in 2003, the re-offending rate was 57. 6 per cent as well. As the above statistics show, the percentage of re-offending rate did not decrease since 2000. The majority of released prisoners had committed an offence again within two year; therefore it was shown that prisons did not preventing people from re-offending effectively.
If the prison is effective, the percentage of re-offending rate should be only the minority of prisoners. In conclusion then to answer the question are our prisons effective; this essay had first discussed the aims of prison. The main purposes of prison included protecting public, as a form of punishment, assist prisoners to have a useful life and as a form of deterrence. After that several problems in prison had been discussed, for example, the overcrowding and mental health problems. Finally there was evidence to support the fact that the majority of prisoners have re-offend.
Therefore prisons do not seem to be effective based on the points discussed. In order to have a more effective prison, some productive programmes should be included, for example, to include the risk classification which separate prisoners into different risk levels and provided different programmes for them. Also, reaching criminogenic needs are important as well. Prisoners should have been distinguishing between criminogenic and non-criminogenic needs and their needs should be a focus as the goals of reducing re-offending.